Cochrane Review finds some potential for yoga as treatment for low back pain treatment


The Cochrane Library has released a new review to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR) showing that yoga may lead to a small reduction in pain in people with chronic non-specific lower back pain over the short term. However, researchers advise that more studies are needed to provide information on long-term effects.  

The review summarises the results of 12 randomised trials from 1,080 men and women with an average age between 34 and 48 years old. The trials were conducted in India, the UK, and the US. All participants had chronic non-specific lower back pain.

The Cochrane researchers compared practicing yoga in a class to not doing any back-focused exercise. Five studies compared yoga with back-focused exercise, or added yoga for a back-focused exercise programme. All yoga interventions used were specifically designed for treatment of lower back pain, and were provided by experienced and qualified teachers.

The research team also found limited evidence that—compared with not doing any physical exercise—yoga can lead to some improvement in back function after six months and a small reduction in pain after three months. The longer term effects of yoga on lower back pain are less certain, because there were few studies that looked at follow-up after 12 months.

“Our findings suggest that yoga exercise may lead to reducing the symptoms of lower back pain by a small amount, but the results have come from studies with a short follow-up,” says lead author Susan Wieland from the Cochrane Complementary Medicine at the Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA.

However, yoga is associated with more side effects than not doing any exercise. About 5% more yoga participants experienced increased back pain, although this appears similar to the risk of having side effects from other back-focused exercise.

“At the moment we only have very low-quality evidence for the effects of yoga before six months as a type of exercise for helping people with chronic lower back pain,” says Wieland. She hope, however, that “the findings of this Cochrane Review will help people make more informed choices about their future treatment options.”